SALMON FISHERIES. Commercial salmon fisheries provide consumers with a variety of products, including fresh, canned, frozen, smoked, and cured items. Sockeye (red) and pink salmon dominate the canned market, while chum salmon and silver (coho) salmon are mostly frozen. Chinook (king) salmon, the largest of the five Pacific species, is smoked and cured. During the short summer and fall seasons, all salmon species are shipped fresh to restaurant and retail trades. Cured salmon roe (eggs) is becoming increasingly popular, especially in sushi bars.
Salmon fisheries on both coasts of the United States have been important historically, but only the Alaska fishery continues to provide a significant commercial endeavor. The East Coast fishery for native Atlantic salmon was fished out or otherwise decimated by 1850. On the Pacific Coast, the five varieties of salmon have been fished and processed from Monterey Bay, California, to the Arctic Circle in Alaska since the 1860s. The first canning operation was established by the Hume brothers on the Sacramento River in California in 1864. Puget Sound saw its first salmon canning operation in 1877 and Alaska's first cannery opened in southeast Alaska in 1878.
Initially, salmon was captured with traditional Native American methods such as traps and fishwheels. European immigrants brought gillnet, purse seine, and trolling gear methods in the late nineteenth century. Canning production peaked in 1929 with more than 200 canneries operating on the Pacific Coast and Alaska producing more than 10 million cases (48 lbs. each). Alaska began dominating production at the turn of the twentieth century with the Alaska Packers Association the dominant company, producing more than 50 percent of the entire pack in 1903. By the 1930s, production in Alaska and the West Coast states began declining, with only two million cases produced in 1967. International agreements with Canada in 1930 and with other Pacific Rim nations in 1953 alleviated cross-boundary and high-seas conflicts.
The early 1970s saw a tremendous surge in the value of salmon fisheries as the emerging Japanese market for frozen salmon led a revitalization in the processing industry in Puget Sound and Alaska. However, Pacific coast fisheries declined to almost negligible commercial production through the end of the twentieth century, due to loss of spawning grounds, pollution, and overfishing. Alaska's fishery, however, saw high values and production in the 1980s and 1990s, with ex-vessel value peaking in 1988 at $780 million and landings peaking in 1995 with more than 1 billion pounds.
Today, the processing sector has consolidated to a few large companies, such as Trident Seafoods Corp., Peter Pan Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, and Wards Cove Packing, all based in Seattle. However, more than 15,000 fishermen continue to operate directly in the salmon fisheries in the United States and 10,000 persons are employed in processing and marketing operations.
Finally, the early 2000s saw a downturn in value and profits as farmed salmon production from Norway, Chile, and Canada flooded the U.S. and world market with fresh salmon products. U.S. production in 2001 was 678 million pounds for an ex-vessel value of $268 million.
Browning, R. J. Fisheries of the North Pacific. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1973.
Johnson, H. M. Annual Report of the U.S. Seafood Industry. Jacksonville, Oreg.: HM Johnson and Associates, 2001.
Pacific Fishing Yearbook. Seattle, Wash.: FIS, 2001.
See alsoMackerel Fisheries .